It seems like a very long time since I reviewed the Xbox 360. In fact Microsoft's second console has been with us for nearly two years - it launched in the UK on 2nd December 2005, and I can still remember sitting up all night making sure that I had the review written in time for launch day. Microsoft did very well to bring its console to market so long before both Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii, and since Sony chose to delay the PS3 launch in Europe, the X360 stole a 16 month march on its archrival. But despite the long wait for the PlayStation 3, it did bring with it some significant advances for high definition gaming. Now Microsoft is hitting back with an update to its already impressive console, in the shape of the Xbox 360 Elite.
I should probably point out that the original Xbox 360 options are still available, although the prices have dropped to reflect the arrival of the Elite. The previous top end Premium Xbox 360 now carries a price tag of £249.99, while the entry level Core machine is available at a Wii rivalling £179.99. This allows the Elite to slide in at the top with a price of £299.99, which is actually cheaper than I expected, and a significant £125 less than the PS3. Of course you are getting a Blu-ray player with the PS3, but if you're just looking for a games console, the additional Blu-ray functionality is just a costly extra.
So, what differentiates the Elite from the X360 that's been on sale for almost two years? Well, it's black. I know that the colour may not be the most important or compelling update for many, but the Elite really does look better than its off-white siblings. The funny thing is that when the X360 launched I thought it looked great, but the subsequent releases of the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii have taken much of the shine of Microsoft's machine, at least from an aesthetic point of view. The Elite on the other hand, has a certain understated, even stealthy design characteristic. Yes, the gloss black PS3 maintains the more striking of the two, but it's also a dust and fingerprint magnet, especially since my 19 month old daughter seems to like wiping her grubby little paws on it. But the matte finish of the Elite suffers no such woes, while the silver detailing of the DVD tray and the hard drive has far more visual impact when surrounded by black rather than white.